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ISO 14046:2014 provides principles, requirements and guidelines for conducting and reporting a water footprint assessment as a stand-alone assessment, or as part of a more comprehensive environmental assessment.
This paper proposes a practical methodological approach to assess the water footprint at the organizational level, in line with the current development of life-cycle based approaches toward the organizational scale on the one hand and footprint metrics on the other hand. This methodological development allows for organizational water footprint applications intended to inform management decisions and to alleviate water-related environmental impacts throughout the supply chain.
ISO 14046, dedicated to water footprint with a major focus on products, and ISO/TS 14072 for organizational LCA (O-LCA) are compared. A set of indications to carry out an organizational water footprint is identified based on: the requirements common to water footprint and organizational LCA; complementary methodological elements specified in only one of the standards; solutions to issues identified as conflicting. Additional application guidance on data collection prioritization for organizational water scarcity footprint studies is delivered based on the review of existing organizational case studies and comparative product or commodity studies.
The standards comparison allowed compiling a set of requirements for organizational water footprints. Combined with the targeted guidance to facilitate data collection for water scarcity footprint studies, this work can facilitate assessing the water footprint of organizations throughout their supply chains.
Within the ISO framework, organizations are included as object of water footprint studies in ISO 14046 (ISO 2014a), which provides an annex devoted to applying water footprint on the organizational level. Also, the Water Footprint Network foresees the application of comprehensive assessments of water consumption and degradation to companies (Hoekstra 2011), along with other initiatives such as the CDP Water Program, the Global Water Tool, and the Water Risk Filter (see (Forin et al. 2018) for a complete list and review).
One reason might be the absence of a consistent guidance document for this specific application, which is indeed recognized, but not specifically addressed, in ISO 14046 and ISO/TS 14072 (see Sect. 2). Given the urgency of water-related environmental problems such as the water scarcity and acute water quality alteration in certain world regions, we aim at encouraging the application of water footprint for organizations by providing methodological guidance.
This paper leads practitioners through the methodological elements of organizational water footprint. For each of the four LCA phases, the requirements set by ISO 14046 (water footprint) and ISO/TS 14072 (organizational LCA) are compared and focused recommendations to prioritize data collection are provided. Section 2 explains how the comparison is operationalized and how recommendations for data collection are derived. Section 3 provides, for each LCA phase, the resulting requirements for organizational water footprint after discussing conflicting or contradictory elements. In Sect. 4, additional guidance for method application is provided for the specific case of water scarcity footprints, based on experience with organizational LCA and comparative product water footprint case studies. Finally, the main findings are discussed and conclusions are presented (Sects. 5 and 6).
To develop an application guidance for organizational water footprint, two methods were applied. First, the requirements of ISO 14046 and ISO/TS 14072 were compared in order to identify corresponding, complementary, and conflicting requirements. This allowed developing a consistent set of guidelines to carry out an organizational water footprint study. This approach is described in Sect. 2.1. Further, the most relevant organizational activities for the specific case of water scarcity footprint studies are identified in order to help prioritizing data collection efforts. The related approach is described in Sect. 2.2.
In other words, organizational LCA and water footprint, though both based on the milestone standards of life cycle assessment ISO 14040 and ISO 14044, have different foci, as highlighted in Fig. 1. Organizational LCA is a multi-impact method considering, among others, data related to water as elementary flow in the inventory analysis phase, and water-related impact categories in the impact assessment phase. Therefore, organizational water footprint can be considered as a subset of organizational LCA, such as a product-related water footprint study can be performed as part of a multi-impact assessment considering also non-water-related indicators. On the other hand, water footprint as in ISO 14046 includes also organizations in its scope, although most methodological elements are conceived from a product perspective and focus on the data required to perform water-related impact assessment. In other words, organizational water footprint, though being included in both the organizational LCA and the water footprint framework, does not represent in either case the focus of the standard. In this way, practitioners taking product water footprint as starting point would lack specific guidance on organization-specific issues, like defining the organization to be studied and setting organization-specific system boundary. The other way around, i.e., starting from organizational LCA, would imply lacking specific requirements for water-related impacts.
In order to profit from the different foci of organizational LCA and water footprint relevant to performing an organizational water footprint study, the requirements of ISO 14046 and ISO/TS 14072Footnote 1 for each LCA phase are juxtaposed. We identify:
Methodological elements common to both organizational LCA and water footprint (overlaps, displayed in plain characters in Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) that can be directly integrated in the requirements for organizational water footprint (right column of each table);
Requirements or indications that overlap, but prove conflicting or contradictory, for which a specific choice is necessary (bold characters in Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). These issues are discussed in depth and recommendations on the most suitable application to organizational water footprints are delivered;
Requirements that are specific to either ISO 14046 or ISO/TS 14072, regarding issues specific either to water footprint or to organizations, but not conflicting with each other (displayed in italic characters in Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). These are integrated in the requirements for organizational water footprint.
Defining the goal of the study lays the ground for the study design and depends on which information the organization expects from the water footprint study. The requirements according to the water footprint and the organizational LCA method are summarized in Table 1.
While defining the goal, certain items need to be mentioned. Among them, the requirements of ISO 14046 and ISO/TS 14072 overlap regarding: the intended application, the reason for carrying out the study, and the intended audience. As for the product-related equivalent, also organizational water footprint assessments can be carried out either as stand-alone assessments or as part of an organizational life cycle assessment, and this shall be declared in the goal of the study.
The two standards contain diverging requirements on comparative assertions. On the one hand, ISO/TS 14072 requires including a statement that the results of the study are not intended to be used in comparative assertions intended to be disclosed to the public. In other words, based on the results of the organizational LCA of two organizations, it cannot be publicly stated which organization has a better environmental performance. On the other hand, ISO 14046 considers comparative assertions possible if the water footprint is conceived as part of an LCA (since no comparative assertions should be based on one or a limited set of impact indicators as delivered by a water footprint study). Transferred to the organizational level, this would mean that organizational water footprint, embedded in a multi-impact study, could be used for comparative assertions, since ISO 14046 does not highlight any exception for organizations.
Offsetting is a calculation mechanism that allows compensating the environmental impacts of the product, process or organization under study through impact-reducing activities outside the system boundary. ISO 14046 explicitly excludes offsetting. Being related to processes that take place outside the system boundary, offsetting can be considered as implicitly excluded by all LCA-based methods, including organizational water footprint.
In the inventory phase of organizational water footprint, data for all water-relevant inputs and outputs (elementary flows) is collected and analyzed. Inventory data necessary for organizational water footprint is the same as in product-related studies and corresponds therefore with the requirements provided in ISO 14046, more specific than the requirements for organizational LCA, which are conceived for a broader range of environmental impacts. Inventory data according to ISO 14046 includes water withdrawn from the environment and entering the system (i.e., crossing the system boundary) without previous human transformation, and water leaving the system and released to the environment without subsequent human transformation. Further inputs and outputs to be considered are substances, e.g., pollutants, which affect water quality. Their choice and collection should be performed according to the goal and scope of the study, i.e., to the impact categories addressed.
ISO 14046 provides details on the type of data to be collected for carrying out a water footprint study (Table 3). These requirements apply to all kinds of systems considered (product, process, or organization) and embrace data and data quality requirements. The data to be collected are as follows: the quantities of water use and data describing water quality (including withdrawal, release, and water receiving body); forms of water use (including, if relevant, changes in drainage, stream flow, groundwater flow or water evaporation); location of water use (withdrawal and release) required to determine any related environmental condition indicator of the area where the water use takes place; seasonal changes in water quantity and quality, if relevant; emissions to air, water and soil that impact water quality, and any other data needed by the water footprint impact assessment method applied. 2b1af7f3a8